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In this question in English Language and Usage, there is an enquiry about a spelling mistake that appears in certain technical papers that are of German authorship but are written in English.

My guess is that it is a German spelling mistake and that horizontal and horicontal wold be pronounced the same in German.

I am not a German speaker. Could you confirm or deny my theory?

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    I'm very skeptical: If it really originates from a German error, then from a translation mistake, not a German spelling mistake. As a German speaker, one is used to words where a German "z" is equivalent to an English "c". However, the biggest argument against this hypothesis is that the intuitive pronunciation of "horicontal" would contain a k sound. – Chris Aug 6 '15 at 21:02
  • I see. In that case I'll consider my theory disproved and modify my suggested answer on the English SE accordingly. I'm grateful for your help. – chasly from UK Aug 6 '15 at 21:18
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"Horicontal" is not a German word. Nor does it match any German spelling pattern, not even an imported one. The standard pronunciation for the combination "co" is "ko" as in for example "Co-Sponsor". So "horicontal" would be pronounced "horikontal".
Might well be that back a hundred years ago (or more) some scholars would write it with a "c" because they didn't know any better.

  • On a quick note: It may be that horicontal was a common spelling before the spelling reform of 1901, but I cannot check this right now. Compare to Konzern, which was commonly spelt Concern before 1901. – Wrzlprmft Aug 6 '15 at 20:58
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    @Wrzlprmft... that's not the best comparison though because in "concern" the soft "c" is followed by "e" which is how it is in French. The initial "c" was pronounced as a "k" (I believe). Anyhow, checking never hurts – Emanuel Aug 6 '15 at 21:01
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    @Wrzlprmft: I may be wrong but I don't think that "horizontal" was ever written with a c in German. In Greek (its origin) it was written with a zeta, in Latin this became a z. I cannot imagine a reason why it should have been written with a c... Hmm... – Chris Aug 6 '15 at 21:11
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    @Emanuel you are correct, the initical "c", like all instances of a c followed by an o, was pronounced as a "k". – Jascha Goltermann Aug 7 '15 at 0:26
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Emanuel's answer is correct. (Only the speculation in the last sentence is unfounded.) But that leaves the question why some German speakers would make this mistake. I think I can explain that.

It seems to me that this is an obvious example of a hypercorrection. In German, words of Latin origin eventually get c replaced by either z (before e and i) or k (before a, o, u). As a result, when replacing a German word of Latin origin by its English cognate, we have to replace z and k by c. (Zentrum -> centre, zirka -> circa, Kontakt -> contact, ...)

Horizontal superficially looks like a word of Latin origin, so it gets this treatment. Of course, the fact that the z in horizontal is before an o, not an e or i, should be clue enough that this is wrong. But in a few cases this largely automated process will trigger anyway.

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